Identity fraud is the use of someone else’s identity to commit a crime. Most often, this involves defrauding the identity owner by using their identity to make purchases or otherwise commit crimes of a financial nature against them. The term identity fraud is often used interchangeably with the term identity theft.

Technically, identity theft is the actual taking of the identity or personal information, and identity fraud is the using of that information to commit the fraud. However, the terms are often used to mean the same thing, and both are punishable under the same federal law.

Identity fraud is what is known as a “white collar crime,” because it does not involve violence against another person. It is true, though, that victims of identity fraud may feel violated by the experience.

How Does Identity Fraud Happen?

Identity fraud is committed when someone takes stolen personal information and commits a crime using that information. Someone may commit identity fraud without committing identity theft, if they did not personally steal the information, but simply use it for criminal purposes.

The type of personal information taken in an identity theft includes: another person’s name, social security number, credit card or bank account number. The information is taken from its owner without their knowledge or consent. This information is then used in identity fraud, which can be committed in a number of ways.

What are Some Common Ways in Which Identity Fraud is Committed?

What are some of the specific criminal acts committed with stolen personal information, which would qualify as identity fraud?

  • Personal identifying documents may be stolen. When someone has your driver’s license or passport, they can attempt to carry out a variety of activities in your name, such as opening a bank account, taking out a mortgage or other loan, or claiming benefits of some sort. These documents may be stolen, or they may be forged.
  • Personal identifying information may be stolen, but not the documents themselves. The thief can use the stolen information to apply for new documentation such as a driver’s license, or to fill out an immigration document.

There is no limit to the types of activities that can occur within the realm of identity fraud. It includes almost anything that can be done with a person’s personal identifying information. Someone committing identity fraud could use stolen information to: pay medical bills, create account and records in the false name, file insurance claim or open a savings account.

Is Stealing Someone’s Credit Card Number Considered Identity Fraud?

Stealing someone’s credit card number is considered to be a form of consumer fraud, rather than identity fraud. Credit card numbers may be captured over the internet when someone makes a purchase. Sometimes devices are placed in card readers so that when someone makes a purchase, a scan of their card number is taken so that a thief can use it. The thief then uses the card number to make purchases.

Can I Commit Identity Fraud If I Did Not Use the Information for Personal Gain?

Yes, identity fraud can be committed without any personal gain accruing to the person who commits it. All that is required is that the individual who commits the crime obtain, possess or use someone else’s stolen identifying information to commit the crime. Regardless of whether they receive kind of gain as a result of the crime, it has still been committed.

What are the Penalties I Face If I am Convicted of Identity Fraud?

States vary in their criminal penalties for identity fraud. There are separate identity fraud laws at the federal level, which, accordingly, have a separate set of penalties. in general, though, if you are convicted of identity fraud, you could face:

  • Jail Time: A misdemeanor sentence carries a lighter penalty than a felony conviction, which can result in many years in prison. Whether the crime committed is a misdemeanor or a felony depends on its severity, and on the jurisdiction in which it was committed.
  • Probation: When someone is on probation, they must follow a court’s order to appear/check in at certain times, and other restrictions the court sees fit to place on them. Probation is sometimes given instead of jail time, and is sometimes given after a sentence is served.
  • Restitution: The defendant may have to pay back what they took from the victim of their crime.
  • Fines: Courts may impose fines on the person who committed identity fraud. This may be in lieu of or in addition to incarceration.

Depending on the circumstances, the defendant may have their initial sentence increased through certain identity theft penalty enhancements.

Should I Contact a Criminal Lawyer about Identity Fraud?

Identity fraud is a very serious crime that can result in serious penalties, if you are convicted of it. If you are accused of identity fraud, contact a fraud lawyer to determine your best defense.